Tag Archives: Nichols Powers

What Was Lost…

The entry here on the the Bridgewright Weblog which has seen more readership than any other, (and is still clicked in on with regularity) is now some thirteen months old. A piece titled Lost to Evermore, written in part in reaction to the devastation wrought by Irene. Some of which, as I put pen to paper in those first few days after the storm, I had already seen firsthand. Some, in the hard-hit Schoharie Valley of New York was at that point, less than fully known, to myself nor most anyone from outside the immediate area. Lines of communication were then down, and travel in and out of the valley was so hindered that little information about the level of damage had yet reached the wider world. What was known was that The Blenheim had been washed from its abutments.

With less than little known about the level of damage done to the Bridge, and with this blog being Bridgewright-centric, (for the most part but not limited to, an exploration of the works and work of Bridgewrights – Builders of wooden bridges, both past & present) my piece was as much about the builder of the Blenheim, as it was about the bridge itself.

The Bridgewright Nichols Powers – Photo courtesy of Schoharie Historical Society

Information then available suggested the bridge was not only lost, but had been all but erased – Even weeks later, in a group of folks at a Regional Gathering of Timber Frame Carpenters many of whom knew and had spent time on, in and under The Blenheim, (It being to the North American Timberframing Community among the greatest of timber works to be seen, a built heritage pilgrimage of sorts somewhat akin to Chartres, the Parthenon or Pont du Gard) no one knew either what was lost or what might yet be found.

Many of us from outside the area assumed that the needs to replace and repair homes and businesses, to restore livelihoods and a sense of normalcy were the demands of the day for those directly affected by the floods. It was seen as perhaps not even reasonable to wonder after the post flood state of the Bridge.

Yet despite all this much to do, locals somehow made time for their Bridge. A recovery effort was organized, advantage was made of the seeming irony of a mild, almost snow free winter, and regular efforts in search and retrieval were made.

This gained a sense of urgency when the Blenheim’s National Historic Landmark Status was seen as in jeopardy, and it was suggested that any effort at rebuilding would have to include 51% of the original “fabric” to retain Landmark status. A lower than typical Spring Melt also cooperated with efforts towards recovery, and activity intensified as the weather warmed.

And more recently even as recovery efforts saw the transfer of sections both large and small to a common staging area, another setback. A FEMA determination that the The Blenheim, because it no longer carried vehicular traffic, is ineligible for funding. An appeal of this decision was recently heard, the finding and a final decision is yet to be determined.

Some of you may remember the shot of the Bottom Chord Scarf (Splice) I included in the Evermore piece. I no longer see the Bridge as lost, (If I ever did, the piece was about circumstance and reaction) or the situation as evermore. I do still see that magnificent Scarf, that startlingly beautiful and complex bit of cooperative workmanship, as being a yet unbroken connection still tying the Bridges past, to its future. I see this as area residents do – The need is to rebuild.

Preparations for rebuilding began, but will not end, with recovery and retrieval.

The following shots were taken on a recent non-related timberframe restoration trip into the area – Several of Powers chosen multiple abutment “Trait de Jupiter” (Bolt ‘O Lightning) Scarfs are seen here also…

The Bridled Tenons which control the Wedge where the Counter joins an Arch

Double Mortises and a Flatting cut perpendicular to the axis of the Counter Braces in an Arch section to receive a Counter and its Wedge

An Oaken Angle Block & a Cleat to receive a Set of Lower Lateral Braces and the Tie Rod which controlled them

The Blenheim materializing out of the mist on an early morning visit in the Autumn of ’07

Homage Found

In casting a net in a search for more in depth information on the Sullivan Railroad Bridge, I’ve thus-far turned up a strange dichotomy. Both hugely deep information about some of the fine day to day type details of a kind almost always lost to us, that, and a complete void in the side of things which often does survive.

Strangely and sadly, it seems almost certain there are no known photographs of this bridge. The Sullivan RR replaced it in 1882 with an Iron Lattice variant. Photographs or even stereoscopic cards potentially do exist, and yet sit undiscovered in some dusty attic.

Here a map is seen prepared for planning of the ’05 Steel Arch, the Sullivan RR is still a going concern, not yet gobbled up by the B&M.

The deep findings are to do with the bridges designer, and hands on engineer, George Alanson Parker, who I referred to in an earlier entry. (see Lost to Evermore) In the following both the effort to build the Sullivan is described, as well as the PB&W RR Bridge, which I described in “Lost”

Sources suggest, and it seems almost entirely probable that it was in the framing of the Sullivan that George came to know, and have the kind of entire faith in the man, that saw him recruit Nichols Powers to the effort to build the bridge at Havre de Grace.

A “Powers” is here listed as among those George knew as being of those “the best worth knowing”. I’m always suspect of those who find in history what they wish to find, yet see no revisionism in wondering if this was our Nichols.

I reproduce the description of George’s career here in its entirety, well, because it is way cool source material, and it seems to merit a “bump” back out into the light of the present day.

The Mans Name is Nichols

Some attempt to shine light on the fact that the builder of The Blenheim Bridge is misidentified more often than not, has been a quiet crusade of mine for some while. I’m not entirely sure why, except that it is just plain wrong to call someone by a name not their own. It is innocent enough to add an a to the mans name in the mistaken belief, that an error is thereby being corrected. (this seems to be how this whole silly business began) But as it far more often happens, a long ago error is just repeated, and re-repeated, and then repeated yet again.

Even bronze plaques at Blenheim, and recent flood related mentions in newspapers, even in the mans towns of birth and residence misidentify him as Nicholas.

I’ve been intrigued by this bridgewright and his life’s work since the late Nineties when I was involved with the restoration of the Ashuelot Bridge. Though still unconfirmed, it is thought to be his work. The high level of workmanship, and details common to his other bridges, such as double Lateral Braces, strongly suggest to me that he was its builder. ( Sanford Granger builder of the Bartonsville, lived closer and also used double laterals, but tended to omit the third Chord ) It was that its builder “family’ed” the 3 X 11 Lattice plank in both the Chords and the Truss Webs, using the thicker plank just where time now tells us is most appropriate, which told me the Ashuelot’s Bridgewright was both practiced, and at building Town’s in particular. And a cut far above, simply capable.

I stopped by the mans grave a year ago or so on my way back from some distant work related travel, because it had occurred to me that his name etched in stone might bring it home.

The mans name is Nichols.

Children of Childs

It turns out to be taking more time than expected to turn up substantive information on Mr. Childs and his bridge business partners and brothers, Enoch & Warren. There are plenty of honorable mentions and brief bios, but little in the way of hard information or a sense of just who he was…

Though a prolific builder, with other long span bridges beyond the “New Bridge” pictured in Long’s pamphlet to his credit, (See archive entry – A Name Unknown and a Face to a Name) most notably the former Granite Street Bridge in Manchester, and the famed railroad Triple Bridges at Hooksett Village, and Boscawen’s Rainbow a two span McCallum Truss, these all bridging the Merrimack, and many many other bridges of varying truss types to their credit. Somehow the singular example to still exist is a Long Truss, the Rowell’s at Hopkington. The Rowell’s is an interesting Long variant which has intrigued bridge historians for years because it sports a Childs improvement of encased arches in both trusses. I find myself wondering if they built other solid encased arch examples, and with their railroad contracts providing work over a wide geographic area, perhaps a Childs arch variant Long might have influenced Vermont’s Nichols Powers, who used this same detail in the middle truss of his New York masterpiece, the Old Blenheim.

Seemingly the only other known surviving structure of his construction is the Henniker Academy building, now the home of the Henniker Historical Society.

Sadly and strangely, no examples of his own patent truss still exist here in his home region, though there are a pocket of Childs Truss bridges in Ohio, all built by the bridgewright Everett Sherman. He is said to have chosen this truss type after reading the following announcement in 1882 in the Engineering News and American Contract Journal, that the patents for several truss types had slipped into the public domain, and royalties would no longer be charged of those who chose to make use of them.

Horace is said to have walked long distances in his youth to avoid paying to ride the stage, so he might well have admired Mr. Sherman’s Yankee like thrift.

New Hampshire is still home to a continuing tradition of wooden bridge building and people who specialize in bridge restoration and preservation work. And somehow, in a very real way, I feel that any of us who have ever taken a chisel to a bridge bound timber are all, the children of Childs.